First in Wisconsin, but spreading to Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere, new Republican governors elected with Tea Party support have shocked the complacent political class by showing evidence that they mean to actually do some of the things they campaigned on.
Their states face budget crises, in part, because public employee unions, through collective bargaining, have won benefits and pensions which many workers expect to enjoy for 30 or 40 years past retirement — and which the taxpayers can’t possibly afford in the long run.
The pundit class expected these governors to simply kick the can down the road.
Instead, in some instances they’re asking state legislatures to end collective bargaining for public employees in order to help them rein in costs and balance budgets.
In a well-organized campaign of disruption, the public employee unions and their Big Labor allies now take to the streets to protest, as Democratic legislators, often finding themselves in the minority for the first time in generations, leave their states to prevent legislative reform. (In Indiana, the Democrats fled to avoid voting on a measure that would merely make membership in a teachers union optional!)
Booed at a state firefighters convention in Wildwood, N.J., last fall, Gov. Chris Christie replied: “I understand you feel deceived and betrayed.” And the governor then told the firemen they were right.
“For 20 years, governors have come into this room and lied to you, promised you benefits that they had no way of paying for, making promises they knew they couldn’t keep, and just hoping that they wouldn’t be the man or woman left holding the bag.” So, “Why are you booing the first guy who came in here and told you the truth?” he asked.
New Jersey’s pensions may go bankrupt by 2020, Gov. Christie told the union members. As Peggy Noonan reported in The Wall Street Journal last weekend, “A friend told him not to worry, he won’t be governor then.”
But, “That’s the way politics has been practiced in our country for too long,” Gov. Christie continued. “So I said to those firefighters, ‘You may hate me now, but 15 years from now, when you have a pension to collect because of what I did, you’ll be looking for my address on the Internet so you can send me a thank-you note.’ ”
This same battle is coming to Nevada.
Protesting against the cost-cutting moves in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana — but actually setting the stage for similar street tactics here — some 300 union activists gathered at the Sawyer Building in Las Vegas on Monday to hear former Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., protest, “Organized labor and with it the middle class are under attack from sea to shining sea. It’s about taking away their right to organize and make working conditions better.”
But this rhetoric no longer matches a world in which firefighters can spend part their work shifts at the gym, operate businesses out of their million-dollar haciendas and look forward to collecting 30 years of $80,000-a-year pensions — on the backs of taxpayers working three part-time jobs without benefits — after working for a mere 20 or 30 years.
Yes, many unionized government employees are “middle class,” as Ms. Titus says. But most of the taxpayers who finance their generous salaries and “someone else will cover it” benefits are middle class as well, or even working class. And who’s to speak for them?
The rhetoric of class warfare doesn’t make much sense when the battle is over how much shall be seized from struggling middle-class, private-sector workers, and transferred to middle-class government workers, so the latter can enjoy benefits and retirements far in excess of what any miner, rancher or casino worker can ever anticipate.